Although a small amount of stress can be helpful in certain ways, most of us are dealing with far too much of it. That’s never been more true than during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Whether you’re dealing with job loss, disrupted family dynamics, or the worry of how the virus could impact immuno-suppressed loved ones, there’s no doubt that we’re all experiencing negative effects to a certain degree.
The impact of heightened stress can be profound. Sleep researchers have already found that people around the world are experiencing insomnia and disturbing dreams as a result of the pandemic. And while 50% of men experience thinning hair by the time they turn 50, people of all ages and genders could experience symptoms like hair loss, migraine headaches, digestive issues, and more.
The trick here is to know how to work through that stress in healthy ways. We may not be able to control the state of the economy or the decisions that others make when they disregard social distancing recommendations, but we can control our own environment and how we respond to these challenges. By taking the time to prioritize your physical and mental health while you’re at home, you’ll be better equipped to deal with anything the coronavirus outbreak may throw at us. Here are just a few ways you can reduce stress and be kinder to yourself during these uncertain times.
Set Limits on Media Consumption
It’s natural that you’d want to stay up-to-date with the latest coronavirus developments, especially because data can change quickly. But at a certain point, you could become too informed — and that can be to your detriment. In 2016, more than 35.7 million people were hospitalized in the United States — but by early April of this year, there were already more than 41,000 hospitalizations nationwide related to COVID-19. Knowing the latest infection rates and death tolls probably won’t do much to ease your mind.
Being informed is important, but you don’t need to watch the news 24 hours a day. To manage your stress and anxiety, you should place limits on how much news you consume. That may mean turning off the television after watching for half an hour or avoiding certain press conferences if you know they make you feel panicked. You might also want to be more conscious of your social media scrolling and sharing. You can actually filter out posts with certain terms on specific social media platforms or lock your app usage when you’ve exceeded a specific limit. It may also be helpful to request that your family not discuss what they’ve heard on the news or in Facebook posts if it’s too upsetting for you. Set boundaries for yourself and stick to them.
Maintain Healthy Coping Mechanisms
When everything feels out of your control, it’s easy to fall into bad habits. You might start eating more junk food, consuming more alcohol, or stop engaging in activities like exercising or cooking. While you should be patient with yourself during this time, it’s also important not to self-medicate or turn to coping mechanisms that could put your health at risk.
If you find you’re drinking to excess or you’re relying on unhealthy foods to ease your worries, you’ll want to make conscious decisions that will help you keep those tendencies in check. Getting outside (by yourself while practicing social distancing, of course) get do wonders, as can finding an at-home workout routine you enjoy. Placing limits on the amount of comfort food or adult beverages you buy at the store will help, as you won’t want to go out for just one thing you’re craving. If you’re in a position to shop for your groceries online and have them delivered to your door, that can reduce the risk that you’ll compulsively shop for unhealthy items. You can also gamify your healthy habits by setting reminders for drinking water, finding nutritious recipes to make with your family, or trying out a yoga meditation session at home. While you don’t need to be overly concerned with weight gain during this time, you should prioritize how you feel.
Schedule Social Interaction Virtually
Humans are social creatures, so it’s understandable that spending all day alone — or interacting with only your spouse and children — might make you feel a bit stir crazy. Fortunately, technology has come a long way and it’s easy to video chat with your loved ones across town or halfway around the world.
If you’re a social butterfly, you’re probably used to having a packed schedule. But just because you’re sheltering in place, that doesn’t mean your calendar needs to look empty. Scheduling video chats with your friends and family can give you something to look forward to and provide you with more motivation to be productive throughout the day. Setting aside a good chunk of time to talk to a close friend or share a virtual holiday with your extended family can do wonders for your overall mood. Those who tend to withdraw during times of stress and anxiety should reach out to loved ones and make sure regular check-ins are taking place.
Not all that tech-savvy? Send emails to a friend or even some snail mail. Composing a letter can be calming (and can give you an opportunity to use that stationery you’ve been saving!). Plus, buying stamps from the U.S. Postal Service can be a great way to support this vulnerable and important agency during the pandemic.
Stick to a Schedule When Possible
Getting away from the constant grind can often allow us to de-stress. But while taking a trip can relieve anxiety and 42% of travelers also say they feel more romantic on vacation, a getaway is out of the question for now. You should absolutely take some time for yourself every day to prevent burnout and depression. Mindfulness and alone time should be an essential part of your routine.
But although you might like the idea of binge-watching your favorite show all day and having no responsibilities, that kind of life can actually set you up for more stress. Sticking to your regular routine as much as possible can provide you with a sense of normalcy — which is what we all need most right now.
Your daily schedule won’t look like it used to, especially if your kids are trying to learn at home and you’re attempting to telecommute. But since change can be a major source of stress for both adults and kids, you’ll want to do what you can to stay consistent. That might mean creating a makeshift office space, getting up early to go for a jog around the neighborhood, or stopping your work to make breakfast and lunch for your family. Since all we have right now is time, you might as well make the most of it.
Keeping stress levels low in the midst of a pandemic is no easy feat — especially if you have essential workers in your home or you’re considered a high risk for infection. However, being more mindful about your daily routine and keeping a sense of normalcy can allow you and your family to weather the storm.